Three years ago, when Atlus announced that it was making a dancing-focused spin-off to its mega-popular Persona series, the idea seemed a bit odd. Now, in 2018, the rules for what is and isn’t “normal” have all been upended. Tell me that we’re getting two more dancing-focused offshoots to a series usually based around saving the world by enslaving demon minions? You’ll get barely a shrug from me.
Persona 4: Dancing All Night wasn’t the most groundbreaking or deep rhythm game I’ve ever played, but it was well produced, pretty fun, and actually made the concept work—and, sometimes, that’s all you need. So, while I wasn’t holding my breath for follow-up titles, I was genuinely interested to see where the pair of sequels would take the series.
For good or bad, Persona 3: Dancing in Moonlight and Persona 5: Dancing in Starlight are almost the exact same gameplay experience as we got in Persona 4: Dancing All Night. Notes still travel out from the center of the screen to six markers corresponding to directions and buttons—with up, left, and down on the left-hand side of the screen, and Triangle, Circle, and X on the right. When the note lines up with the marker, push the proper input, and you’ll get a score based on how exact you were in your timing. In additional to regular notes, there are hold notes (press and hold the input for the duration of the note), union notes (two different buttons at once), and scratches, which instead require pressing an analog stick.
I know it’s an easy complaint if a series makes little progress gameplay-wise between iterations, but the reality is that I’ve seen numerous other rhythm titles ruined by the “we need to change this somehow” mentality. (I’m specifically looking at you, Project Diva F.) So, really, Dancing in Moonlight and Dancing in Starlight are better off for not changing too much. However, there is one gameplay addition present here: double notes, which are two notes connected together that you hit in quick succession. The thing is, regular notes were (and still are) providing those same moments during songs, so I’m not totally sure why they exist. Double notes take nothing away from the games, but they also add nothing.
What also hasn’t changed is the development team’s utterly impressive visual work. Persona 4: Dancing All Night’s character models were gorgeous, and that continues here. The Persona 3 cast’s appearance is especially exciting, given we’ve never had properly-proportioned versions of that cast (with all their prior appearances being in SD form). Also, as I said with the previous game, man, do these two titles look stunning on the Vita. Obviously, there’s not a lot going on in terms of character count or complex backgrounds, but it still amazes me how good each dancer looks even on Sony’s handheld. Even better, dance animations are improved over Dancing All Night, which is always one of the underappreciated-yet-important parts of games like these. There are a handful of other smaller upgrades to what came before as well, such as a wider array of customization items and game modifiers to unlock, and the ability to play with either English or Japanese voices.
Ah, but there is one very large change to the overall package. Gone is the story mode that we got in Persona 4: Dancing All Night, replaced with unlockable “social” cutscenes more akin to the Social Links from the main games. Each character’s scenes have a specific requirement for unlocking them, with each cast member also focusing on different challenges. (So, for example, in Persona 5: Dancing in Starlight, Makoto requires you to equip different accessories, while Futaba’s are based on how many tracks you’ve played.) Especially interesting is that, at a certain point in each social line, you’ll be able to visit the personal rooms of each character—giving us a chance to learn more about both teams in a way that’s never been possible before.
I’ve got to say, I’m definitely happy about the change. The story mode from Dancing All Night was a lot of nonsense, and not only am I ambivalent about narrative in my rhythm games, but I actively dislike Atlus trying to link all these side projects to the main canon. These new social scenes feel more “Persona” to me, they don’t get in the way, and they provide a nice set of challenges that offer up nice rewards. Still, I’m certain that not everyone will agree with me on this one. If you’re looking for content to sink your teeth into, the offerings here definitely feel more sparse compared to Dancing All Night.
I spent a lot of time going back and forth on how to review Persona 3: Dancing in Moonlight and Persona 5: Dancing in Starlight, because while they’re different games, they’re also not. Deciding which one to get—if you aren’t picking up both—is really about which source game’s soundtrack you prefer. I think Persona 3’s music works better for a rhythm game, but on the other side, Persona 5’s best tracks have been my favorite stages between the two. Otherwise, the casts are different, and the menus and UI are properly themed to each game, but the overall experience you’ll get in the end is exactly the same.
I’m still not sold on the idea of the Persona soundtracks working as the basis of rhythm games, but I’d be lying if I said I don’t get a decent amount of enjoyment out of virtually dancing to them. Which one you go for will be up to you, but either way, Persona 3: Dancing in Moonlight and Persona 5: Dancing in Starlight are weird yet weirdly lovable experiences. Sure, they’re more milking of a brand that is getting dangerously close to being milked to death, but it’s hard to deny how tasty that milk can sometimes be.
While I still don’t know that the world needs dancing games based off of the Persona series, it’s obvious that Atlus could do way worse than Persona 3: Dancing in Moonlight and Persona 5: Dancing in Starlight. Both games show clear effort in terms of visuals and animations, and if there’s any RPG franchise with soundtracks you’d want to groove to, it’s Persona.
T – Teen
|Persona 3: Dancing in Moonlight / Persona 5: Dancing in Starlight is available on PlayStation 4 and Vita. Primary version played was for Vita. Product was provided by Atlus for the benefit of this coverage. EGM reviews on a scale of one to five stars.
Mollie got her start in games media via the crazy world of gaming fanzines, and now works at EGM with the goal of covering all of the weird Japanese and niche releases that nobody else on staff cares about. She’s active in the gaming community on a personal level, and an outspoken voice on topics such as equality in gaming, consumer rights, and good UI. Check her out on Twitter and Mastodon.